Academic journal article International Journal of Marketing Studies

Cultural Omnivores' Consumption: Strategic and Inclusively Exclusive

Academic journal article International Journal of Marketing Studies

Cultural Omnivores' Consumption: Strategic and Inclusively Exclusive

Article excerpt


This study explores cultural dispositions and consumption practices of cultural omnivores whose tastes align with those of high-status people in the U.S. Peterson and colleagues first identified the shiftin status markers from snobbish and highbrow tastes to eclectic and omnivorous ones. Our findings suggest that cultural omnivores are characterized by two traits: superior self-perception in taste and cultural tolerance. These traits indicate that their prestige is sustained by their cultural styles, which are simultaneously broad and exclusive. Cultural omnivores also tend to engage in multifaceted experiences in food consumption and appearance-related goods (i.e., clothing), as well as Internet usage. We believe that the multiplicity observed in the current study reflects the highly strategic nature of the everyday consumption practices of cultural omnivores. We conclude that the qualities of elite consumers (i.e., cultural capital) are translated into omnivorous cultural consumption and a strategic and practical type of everyday consumption. The findings of this study have implications for marketing to high-status consumer segments characterized by a strong buying power and opinion leadership.

Keywords: omnivorous taste, cultural consumption, consumer

1. Introduction

Research on cultural omnivorousness has adopted the Weberian notion of stratification, particularly of status (Note 1). Status is based on the principles of their consumption of goods as represented by "special styles of life" (Weber, 1946, p. 193). Weber (1946) argues that there is only a loose fit between social class and status, and that the criteria of status honor have varied from society to society and over time within a society. Status consumption involves a tendency to value status and to consume goods and services that provide status to the individual (O'Cass & McEwen, 2004, p. 34). In other words, status consumption is grounded on two premises: consumption objects signal status and people strive for status through consumption practices. Ever since Veblen's (1899) pioneering work, research on status consumption has examined two aspects: 1) consumers' emotions and behaviors are perpetuated by a stratified social system by investigating how consumption process denotes one's position in the social space; and 2) consumption reproduces social arrangements by demonstrating consumption as part of the construction of social reality (Arnould & Thompson, 2005).

Status consumption should not be confused with materialism or conspicuous consumption. Material value puts emphasis on the importance of material possessions (Richins, 2004) and conspicuous consumption underlines display of wealth through consumption of luxurious products and services (Trigg, 2001). Status-seeking has been understood as materialistic because of status signaling power of particular product categories. These product categories are easily noticeable and the products are prohibitively expensive for all but a small group of people. Therefore, conspicuity is understood as a characteristic of status consumption, reflecting the legacy of Veblen (1899). However, recent literature suggests the conspicuity is not always a characteristic of status consumption. Recent cultural sociology literature reveals that in cultural consumption domain the conspicuity has decreased; exclusive affinity for so-called highbrow cultural genres by high-status individuals declined and pursuit of cultural variety emerges as new status marker (Peterson, 1997b). In product consumption domain, consumers in higher income bracket prefer luxury products of which the brand is not so prominent and products with less prominent brand marking are, in fact, found to be more expensive (Han, Nunes, & Drèze, 2010).

In his historical review of status markers in America, Peterson (1997b) discusses three phases in the evolution of rules of status honor (i.e., status marker). Until the mid-nineteenth century, social status in America was signaled by kin, community, and personal honor-based indicators. …

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